Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
Devastation isn't bad news for everyone.
We know from previous experience how natural disasters can affect certain sectors of society differently. The rich get by, the poor suffer enormously; small businesses and restaurants can be seriously hurt even without being physically damaged. The culture industry is especially vulnerable, as displacement, transportation issues and a lack of tourism decimates its audience.
And yet, some businesses and some groups of people thrive. It seems inappropriate to call them winners, but the impact of the hurricane for some is, well, different. Statistics are slow to emerge, and it's not yet clear how the storm affects, say, grocery stores, whose shelves were cleaned out on Sunday, or coffee shops, which seem to be the busiest places in Manhattan right now. But things are looking pretty good for restaurants north of the black-out zone and pay phones within.
In order from least to most benefit, here's five more that haven't been doing so badly:
It's not that cycling post-Sandy has been better, though there have been some claims to that effect. Rather, with many subway lines still down beneath the East River, buses jammed, and more than half of the city's gas stations out of fuel, relatively speaking, it's a good time to own a bike. At the moment, it seems that biking (and walking) is the only reliable way to get from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
4. Hotels -- the ones with power, anyway.
On Monday night, during the peak storm surge, occupancy rates for hotels in New York City were near normal, according to hotel research company STR. While no large-scale data is yet available for Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday nights, they figure to have been even more busy. International guests could not leave, reducing outflow: of the Sheraton New York, Barbara Delollis writes in USA Today:
On any given day, the hotel normally sees 400 or 500 guest departures, but with the lack of transportation into and out of the city, he says that number's been fluctuating at only 50 to 70 departures per day.
So while others could not arrive, their spots were quickly taken up by New Yorkers fleeing flooding and power outages or commuters trying to ensure they could get to work. On Tuesday night, 600,000 New Yorkers remained without power, including many in the city’s well-off downtown residential areas. Now, the rooming shortage is exacerbated by the arrival of New York Marathon runners who had booked their rooms months ago. Hotels are being forced to choose between honoring reservations and evicting evacuees.
"Nearly all hotels in midtown and uptown are full," Hervé Houdré, GM of the InterContinental New York Barclay, told Hotel News Now. With power in much of Lower Manhattan expected to be out until Saturday, that trend figures to continue. While some hotel owners fear losing out on associated business, like conferences, and staff has been stretched, they are doing well in other areas.
Kathleen Duffy, spokesperson for NYC Marriott Hotels, is reluctant to say the hotels were doing good business. But occupancy was near normal for the usually busy Marathon Week. In the Marriott in Times Square (below), for example, all 1,957 rooms were full. Other hotels I contacted, more or less at random – the Essex House, the Hyatt, the Brooklyn Marriott – also had no rooms available.
"Are the rooms full? Yes," says Duffy. "Food and beverage are equally busy because everything else is closed -- even non-guests are coming to our hotels to eat. Yes, this would have been a busy week; obviously we prefer that there had not been a hurricane, but the rooms are full. But we would never see a hurricane as a boon to business."
In the short-term, there is, obviously, a lot of work in Sandy's wake for engineers. Admittedly this is a broad categorization, but the damage has been wide-ranging, and it seems obvious that engineers of the hydraulic, structural, electrical and mechanical varieties will be in demand in the Tri-State area for a while. The Army Corps of Engineers’ elite "dewatering" team was flown into New York to examine its inundated infrastructure, the first time they had been deployed outside of New Orleans. Areas of New Jersey and Long Island that are still standing will need dunes and infrastructure rebuilt immediately if they are to survive winter storms.
It’s likely that engineers will also have work to do in the region in the future. Governor Andrew Cuomo admitted that the effects of the storm require long-term planning: "I think we need to anticipate more of these extreme weather type situations in the future and we have to take that into consideration in reforming, modifying our infrastructure."
New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Republican, hinted that he agreed this was not an isolated event: "I'm never going to use the phrase hundred-year storm again because we've had three of those, three hundred-year storms, in the past three years," he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
If Cuomo’s pledge becomes a reality, we could expect massive engineering projects in the New York Harbor in the coming years. Talk of climate change and infrastructure will become more common, particularly after Tuesday’s election.
That the media loves misery, especially in so spectacular a form, is very old news – the most popular items in 19th century newspapers were always stories of crime and disaster, not politics or lifestyle.
There’s lots of debate about how social media may change the equation, but there is no doubt that the traditional media benefits when there’s a once-in-a-lifetime disaster unfolding and people are eager for reportage. Outages at popular sites like Gawker and The Huffington Post only improved things for outlets that managed to keep systems running, even if some deactivated their pay walls.
Advertisement Journal reports that TV channels both national and local had a "sudden escalation" in viewership on Monday, with some local stations reporting 25-30 percent increases. The Weather Channel was the most-viewed cable news network in the U.S. on Sunday, with one executive comparing Sandy to the Superbowl.
The Atlantic's three websites also saw record traffic. Two of the top three articles for the month of October here on Cities were Sandy-related.
1. Construction workers.
The construction industry is about three or four times more volatile than the market, and since 2008, construction has been down 50 to 60 percent nationwide. As The New York Times reports, the level of destruction to the housing stock is unequivocally a good thing for contractors – though they may have trouble replenishing a workforce that has diminished considerably over the last few years.
From broken windows and fallen trees to rebuilding thousands of damaged houses in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the next year should be flush with new construction aided by billions of dollars in federal relief money. One contractor even told the paper, "I always look forward to a natural disaster."
Top image: Reuters.